The Himalayan region is known for its deep spirituality and, aside from Tibet, is one of the most renowned Buddhist nations in the region is Bhutan. Bhutanese monks are predominantly of the Drukpa Kagyu lineage as the result of their founding lama Ngawang Namgyal acting on the advice of Mahakala, and fleeing Tibet following an unresolved dispute about the true candidate of his incarnation.
Ngawang Namgyal, also known as Shabdrung Rinpoche, settled in Western Bhutan and unified Bhutan as a nation state, fending off three attacks by the Tsang Empire in the process. Once the Tsang Empire had been defeated by the Mongols, and the Fifth Dalai Lama was installed to the throne in Tibet, Shabdrung Rinpoche continued to successfully defend Bhutan from the invading forces of Tibetans and Mongols.
Aside from his prowess as a secular leader, Shabdrung Rinpoche was also deeply devoted to the Dharma and under his patronage, many monasteries were established, such as Cheri Monastery. He also promoted non-sectarianism in his land, allowing monks of the ancient Nyingma sect to remain – to this day, Nyingmas comprise of 30% of Bhutanese monks.
During Shabdrun Rinpoche’s time, the Tibetan influence continued to expand over the Himalayan region and Bhutan was not spared. The Tibetan government established a list of approved incarnation lineages; one of those established for the Drukpa subsect of the Kagyu lineage was the Dreuley line of incarnations, present in both Tibet and Bhutan.
The Dreuley line of incarnations began with Drubwang Drukpa Kunley, a mahasiddha and an accomplished poet from Dreuley Monastery. Known as The Divine Madman of the Dragon Lineage, Drubwang Drukpa Kunley was renowned for his crazy methods of enlightening other beings.
With mostly female disciples, he thus also earned the name The Saint of 5000 Women. He was known, for example for walking into prayer halls and emitting a beautiful smell as he walked by younger monks; then, as he walked towards the older monks, he would fart and emit a very bad smell of faeces. When the monks confronted him about this, he would tell them that the smell is a reflection of how well or badly the monks were holding their vows and morality.
He was also very famous for his teachings in desire, often using very unconventional ways to point out people’s attachments and desires to them. For example, he would lay down on a public street with his private parts exposed and his penis erect. Nuns would walk past him, showing at first how shocked they were. Then, they would walk closer to him to look at his private parts, point and talk.
When they asked him why he was doing this and causing so much trouble, he would merely tell them that he was not doing anything – it was them who were making it a big spectacle out of it. He would then give them profound teachings about desire.
Both of Drukpa Kunley’s succeeding reincarnations did not live particularly long lives. Whilst Drukpa Kunley entered clear light at the age of 74, his succeeding incarnation Drukpa Dragpa Gyeltsen was just 25 years old when he passed into clear light. The third incarnation of the Dreuley lineage lived for just 58 years.
Despite his short life however, it was this incarnation of the Dreuley lineage who began the lineage’s close connection with Dorje Shugden. Serkong Dorje Chang writes that one of the earliest and most significant Dorje Shugden rituals, Petition to Dorje Shugden Tsel: Granting all Desired Activities, is most likely co-composed by the third Dreuley incarnation, Drubwang Tenzin Zangpo and Morchen Kunga Lhundrub. So significant it was that Serkong Dorje Chang would also later incorporate this ritual into his own writings and it was included in the extensive catalogue of Shugden texts and lineages compiled by Lobsang Tamdin.
Significant to note is the prayers within this text allude to the enlightened nature of Dorje Shugden. He is described for example, as Lord of Death, an epiteth for Dorje Shugden – this is not to be read literally, but as a reference to a kind of omniscience that is able to distinguish right from wrong, a characteristic that is specific only to fully enlightened beings. He is also alluded to as Avalokiteshvara or as a “Dharma king”, and praised in connection with Tulku Dragpa Gyeltsen, known to be a most superior lama.
It is interesting to note how many of these Lamas of the past wrote so reverentially of Dorje Shugden, with clear allusions to his enlightened nature. This does not at all collude with the more recent claims that he is only a worldly and malevolent spirit, and that his practice was only made up by Pabongka Rinpoche later in the 19th century.
Such was the power and blessings of this text, that it was used in Trode Khangsar in Lhasa and Riwo Choling in Lhoka. Its practice also spread as far as Mongolia, via the Sangphu oracle who travelled there and, when invoked to take trance, gave this ritual to a monk.
Future incarnations of the Dreuley lineage would come to find themselves fostering diplomatic relations. After many years of separation between Bhutan and Tibet, it was not until the fourth incarnation of the Dreuley lineage that reconciliation took place. During the time of the first Phola prince Miwang Pholhane Sonam Tobgye, Drukpa Kagyu Sangha in Tibet and Bhutan were encouraged to foster relations with one another in the hopes that the effects of positive dialogue would soon filter into the political realm.